WATERVILLE — It’s a team that’s recently been rejuvenated. Now comes the next step.

Fresh off the two winningest seasons in program history, Colby baseball has made a name for itself in the New England Small College Athletic Conference. Neither of those two seasons, though, have seen the pieces come together for the Mules quite like they have in 2024.

“We’ve got a great team,” said Colby senior catcher Cole Palmieri. “We’ve got a really good senior class this year with a lot of experience under our belt; there’s just a lot of returning experience. It’s been really fun so far, and if we keep playing our best like we have been doing, I think some special things are in store for us.

The goal is a NESCAC championship for Colby, which returns its top-six hitters from a 2023 team that went a program-best 25-12. The Mules, who closed out nonconference play Tuesday with an 11-5 victory over crosstown foe Thomas, now turn to their conference slate as they pursue that title.

It feels as if Colby’s success over the past two years has been leading to this. The Mules went 24-13 two years ago before bettering that mark last season, and with what the team returned from last year’s squad, Colby players knew they were set to be one of the NESCAC’s top contenders in 2024.

“I think we’ve been going after (a NESCAC title) for years now, and this year’s team, it’s a very experienced one,” said Colby head coach Jesse Woods. “There’s a lot of seniors who have experienced a lot during their team here, and they really want to see if this year’s can be better than the last couple years.”


Last year, Colby finished eighth of 10 teams in the NESCAC in batting average with a .294 mark. Whereas some of their league counterparts lost major pieces at the plate, though, Ryan Grace (.350 last season), Marcus Forrester (.325), Palmieri (.313), Clint Flippo (.284) and Brady O’Brien (.274) all returned for the Mules.

Colby College pitcher Kyle Bourque throws the ball to a Thomas College hitter during a nonconference baseball game Tuesday in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Those players making major leaps in the offseason has paid dividends for Colby, which is currently batting .350, the best of any NESCAC team. Palmieri (.500) currently leads the conference in batting average, and Flippo (.383), O’Brien (.377) and Forrester (.338) have also improved their numbers.

That offense has also been buoyed by newcomers contributing and others from last season making a big leap. Colby boasts an impressive freshman in Patrick Shrake (.367) and a junior, Ethan Hillenberg, batting .385 after hitting just .263 a year ago. Also hitting above .300 are Grace (.317) and Genki LeClair (.344).

“Our seniors have been awesome in helping us out,” Shrake said. “They’ve been awesome in helping us get acclimated not just to the team but to college. They include us in everything, which has been great, so it’s honestly not been that big of an adjustment for me. … We have some great leaders.”

The key to success? A combination of patience and power, two things Colby showed immediately against Thomas. With the bases, two outs and the Terriers up 1-0 in the bottom of the first, the Mules drew three straight walks before a Hillenberg single gave the home team a 2-1 lead. Another walk, a Shrake single and a hit batter with the bases loaded then made it 4-1.

Colby would showcase that again in the fifth and sixth innings. Trailing 5-4 after going hitless over the second, third and fourth, the Mules quickly got back in front in fifth on a Palmieri double and O’Brien home run. They then scored four in the sixth to blow the game open en route to the six-run victory.


“We really emphasize just picking our pitch,” Palmieri said. “If it’s not there early in the count, and you don’t want to swing, don’t swing. When we do that and stick to our approach, good things happen. We didn’t do that in some of those early innings, but we got back to doing that, and that’s what made the difference.”

Despite losing pitchers Julian Erro and Jack Pletter from last year’s team, Colby has been strong on the mound in the early going. Led by Thomas Rioux (3-0, 2.49 ERA), Nicholas Thompson (2-1, 1.17), Matt Scibilio (2-0, 0.00) and Derek Woods (2-0, 0.77), the Mules are second in the conference in ERA at 3.92.

Colby’s early success has come against a challenging schedule. Two of the Mules’ three losses came by a combined five runs against Endicott College, now ranked No. 1 in the country. They also posted impressive wins in Florida against No. 19 Kalamazoo College, Augustana (Ill., receiving votes) and Ramapo.

“Something I wanted was to play as good of a schedule as we could,” Coach Woods said. “Every weekend in the NESCAC is a grind that you’ve got to be ready for, and I feel like we’ve prepared ourselves for that. These guys came to Colby to play a challenging schedule, and they’re up to the challenge and bringing it every day.”

Colby is set to begin conference play Friday against Trinity, though those plans could be in flux with a major snowstorm set to envelop the region the next few days. The Mules will then host top-ranked Endicott in non-conference action Sunday before facing Southern Maine and Tufts on the road next week.

“I think we’re ready,” Palmieri said. “It’s a tough schedule, but we played a tough schedule down in Florida, too. Things don’t change with the opponent; we stick to our level of preparation. We have a lot of confidence, and hopefully, we can keep this thing going.”

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